One of the most challenging obstacles staring down business and technology leaders today is the what v. how paradox.
It may be difficult to consider, but there is a very methodical approach in addressing this challenge and when it’s done incorrectly, it cripples an organization’s ability to innovate. But this isn’t a problem that’s germane to a certain industry or organization type, it’s a problem that’s agnostic to industry, organization, vertical, project and even individual.
The proper order is first defining the what and then defining the how. In simple terms, the what is the problem statement: what’s broken, why is it broken, who is impacted, etc. The how is the solution statement: how will we define solution requirements, how and why are we developing a solution, when will it be implemented, etc. So many organizations struggle with the approach and end up leading with the how. Doing so means a solution is developed first and problems are retrofitted. In these scenarios, technology leadership or practitioners take the lead and rarely is the voice of the customer considered. Many of the business problems go unresolved, which often leads to more issues and poor customer experiences.
“And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.”
– Michael Scott
Asking and answering what first will ensure that the proper course of action will be directionally accurate. Leading with what should start with the customer. What is causing the disconnect between the seamless, compelling and rich experiences and the disjointed, complicated and underwhelming experiences? Getting in front of the customer to understand their perspectives and experiences is the most important. Then, with those inputs, practitioners will better understand what is broken, why is it broken, who is impacted, etc. Business requirements are more succinct in defining the next stage in product or experience development and the solution is developed based on the business and customer needs.
And this is where so many organizations fail. Rarely do we witness organizations that derive decisions based on a business problem that has been curated from the customer. Organizations that are good at defining what before how are generally successful with innovation, but there are two very different paths that can be taken in the overall approach.